Don’t Just Survive – Thrive: Creating a “New Normal” After the Initial Impact of COVID-19

Don’t Just Survive – Thrive: Creating a “New Normal” After the Initial Impact of COVID-19

By Julie Ann Bittner, President / CEO, TRICOM

What a year it has been. For me, Friday the 13th of March will be forever etched in my mind. It was the day TRICOM enacted our Pandemic Plan. I still remember the blank faces, looks of shock, uncertainty, and confusion as I talked to our staff.  That was over five months ago now and was something I thought would only last a few weeks. Today I hear a lot of “I can’t wait until 2020 is over.”  We still have four months to go, so let’s make the best of it with our businesses.

You survived the initial shock of the pandemic breakout along with stay-at-home orders, then navigating your way through the FFCRA and CARES Act, applying for a PPP loan, getting your staff back to work, and loan forgiveness data. Now it’s time to refocus and put a plan for the “new normal” in place.

Recently I saw this quote by Charles Darwin that was really on point: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” We all must respond to change. How we respond and how quickly we respond could be the difference between success and failure for your business.

The staffing industry is known to be at the forefront to changes in the economy. In August, Richard Wahlquist, ASA president and chief executive officer, noted that, “Staffing agencies are continuing to hire across the U.S. and offer work opportunities for people whose jobs were displaced due to the pandemic or who want an additional source of income to help alleviate some of the financial worries keeping them up at night.”

We as leaders need to understand we can’t control the world; things will occur that we aren’t prepared for or that we don’t know about. Regardless, we need to adjust our strategy, be flexible, and be optimistic.

Existing Clients
Understanding each of your client’s economic conditions, employee safety procedures and other unique challenges is critical now more than ever. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Stay close to your clients
  • Ask about the financial health, cash flow/cash reserves, PPP funds  
  • How does the next 6-12 months look for them?
  • Run current credit reports on each of your clients. Have their payment trends changed over the past 6 months? If so, speak openly with your customer to understand their current situation and possibly workout payment plans to get them current
  • Consider client concentration
  • Consider the implications of clients requesting changes to payment terms. Outweigh the risk vs. reward
  • Consider invoicing frequency: if billing bi-weekly or monthly, request to go to weekly payments instead of monthly
  • Look at alternative payment options. If the office staff is working remotely and there are delays in getting checks processed (approval, printing and signed) offer alternatives to checks. ACH/wire payments, electronic check payments (TRICOM’s Click2PayNow) and credit cards are options for quicker payments.  See information below on USPS service issues**
  • Focus on client retention: offer higher service levels and focus on being a resource for your clients

New Clients
It may seem logical to bring on as many new clients as possible. While new clients are great, don’t rush in without doing your due diligence. Just because you receive a call from a potential new customer, it doesn’t mean you should be doing business with them. Let’s look at a few additional items to consider:

  • Thoroughly qualify each prospect
  • How did COVID-19 impact their business?
  • Always run a credit report
  • Did they use any other agencies before you? Who were they and do you have a relationship with someone at the agency to see how the potential customer was to work for?
  • Perform Google searches to see if there is any current news or information about their business
  • Consider problem industries, i.e. clothing (retail & distribution centers), hospitality and state government
  • Pricing & Payment terms: consider moving your contingent workforce to a customer with both strong gross profit margin and payment terms

Your Workforce
The health and welfare of your team/employees remain the top priority.  Frequent and open lines of communication will keep your staff engaged and feel part of the team, as well as help alleviate the natural anxiety we’re all feeling during these times.

Also consider repurposing your workforce. Look at services that are essential. Are current or past customers moving to a new service offering or a new focus due to COVID? Are there any emerging markets in your area?

We are still in dangerous times. As the threat of a possible COVID-19 resurge lingers in all our minds, what changes can you do now to lessen the impact?

Consider moving to 100% electronic payment of payroll via bank account or Debit cards, aka Paycards. Why is this important?

  • Keep your staff safe: limit the number of face-to-face contact your internal staff has with employees picking up checks.  
  • Traditional check cashing sites (particularly customer service at retail/grocery stores) have been severely limited and some areas have shut down check cashing traffic and contact in their stores, making it very difficult for employees to cash checks
  • Bank lobbies, finally opening again, have restricted the number of customers allowed in at a time. Some lobbies are still closed, only allowing drive thru service for customers. Why is this a concern? It can cause lost revenue.  We have heard of temporaries calling in sick due to them waiting in a line at the bank drive thru for over 90 minutes and could not give up their spot.  
  • **First class mail is taking longer than ever, before lost/misrouting of checks. In July of 2020, the new postmaster general of the United States Postal Service established major operational changes that could slow down mail delivery. On August 22, 2020 USPS data shared at a recent industry presentation shows that, in fact, deliveries suddenly slowed down in July, around the time the changes went into effect

Here are a few benefits to share with your employees for having a Debit Card and/or PayCard:

  • Having a debit card (either from your bank and/or a PayCard) is more essential to receiving stimulus and other benefits quicker than checks (the last stimulus run took some recipients several weeks to get a check, while electronic payments were received in two or three days)
  • Debit cards allow you to stay safe and distant while making purchases. Delivery of goods and services are very easy to pay for to maintain no contact (including grocery and pharmacy delivery, DoorDash, Uber Eats, etc. Even some drive thrus allow you to use a card without touching anything)
  • Cash and checks promote too much contact and opportunity for infection. We are hearing of some retailers (particularly food retailers) ONLY accepting debit/credit. The vast majority of local food delivery is now only contactless/cashless
  • PayCard vendors like rapid! PayCard offer Cash Back Reward programs as well as interest bearing savings account

It’s all about educating your staff on the benefits and the additional perks they receive with a debit card. If you feel like your pool of employees not electing electronic pay is too large, attack one customer group at a time. You can also look to educate the staff when onboarding for a new customer. Break the group down to be manageable.

In closing, be mindful that history has proven that many staffing firm bankruptcies have occurred when temporaries went back on assignment as the economy showed recovery but then the client suffered a setback and became unable to pay. We are still in dangerous times. Be bold, be courageous, continually ask questions, stay close to your clients, and keep the lines of communication open with all your business partners – this is critical now more than ever. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of 2020.